Lydia Hiddlestone sliced through a joint of boiled ham in Dr. Meriwether's kitchen, in between wiping tears from her face. Their friendship had lasted a lifetime, yet it seemed as though it had been cut cruelly short. So many words had been left unsaid, so many visits had been perpetually postponed, ever since she took up her new job. Modern air travel meant that the journey from Egypt to London took only half a day, yet still, still, Lydia had never seemed to find the time. Cooking for the young ones, staying for a few days to take care of them - that was the least she could do for her friend now. Just until they found their feet.
A niggling sensation in the back of her mind suggested that she was doing this out of guilt, not out of kindness, but she buried that sensation under her grief and continued preparing supper.
She heard the "tick-tick-whizz" of a steam engine, and scurried to the dining room window. Sure enough, a brass-brown, horseless cab had pulled up by the town house, belching steam from its rear as it deposited Warren and Molly on the street. The boy looked a little too smug for Lydia's liking as he strode on up to the front door with a large, dark bottle in his right hand, and the girl followed as though her feet and her head each weighed ten times heavier.
She returned to the kitchen to finish serving dinner as they let themselves in. Warren called out jovially.
"I hope whatever you're cooking goes well with scotch, Lydia! We're gonna drown ourselves in it tonight, I can tell you that much!" He bolted straight for the dining room and deposited himself at the table.
Molly wandered meekly into the kitchen, one arm tucked around her waist, the other playing nervously with her skirt. "May I help you with anything, Miss Hiddlestone?"
Lydia's heart wrenched. The girl had lost her entire life less than a year ago. Now her entire world seemed to have been tipped on its side once again. She smiled and touched Molly's cheek fondly. "Nothing, petal. Sit, and I'll be in shortly with some food."
Molly slowly shook her head. "I am not hungry. I think I will go upstairs for some sleep."
Lydia smiled sympathetically. "I will keep some for you, in case you are hungry later tonight."
"Thank you," Molly said, turning to leave.
When Lydia carried Warren his plate, he was already guzzling scotch from a glass, the bottle left open next to him. "I never thought anyone could be so happy, Lydia, until now."
"All I want is for you to be happy, Warren, and I know it is what your father would -" Lydia felt herself choke at the mention of the gentle doctor. "-What your father would want as well."
"Of course he would!" Warren suddenly threw her a steely glare, his tone defensive and his voice quivering just slightly. "Why wouldn't he? I'm his only son, aren't I? His only progeny - I am his blood, and she isn't!"
Lydia stepped back quickly as he rose to yell at her. "Warren, I - I didn't mean to offend you, I was merely saying that -"
"That what? That he loved her just as much, probably more than he loved me? Is that what you were saying?"
Lydia's heart sank as far as her toes. Something here didn't feel right. Warren had never said anything like this in his life. He'd only had one drink.
"Oh, my petal," she whispered softly, "I didn't realize how deeply his passing had affected you. You poor creature...."
"No!" Warren shouted, slamming his glass against the dining table with such force that it shattered on impact. Lydia jumped back, and even Warren's eyes widened in shock at his own action. "No," he muttered. "I will not be interrogated and scrutinized in my own home. My own home. It is not his anymore, and you are not welcome here."
Tears sprang to Lydia's eyes, and she reached out to touch his shoulders. "Warren, it's me, you can't really mean -"
"Get out of my house!" Warren screamed.
Lydia didn't need to be told twice. and she scampered towards the door, not even stopping to retrieve her coat. She stepped out into the winter chill and heard Warren lock the door behind her.
Warren's head spun as he fumbled for his writing paper and a quill. He felt drunk, not just on alcohol or rage, but jealousy and guilt and - no, not guilt, he had decided never to feel guilty about this - anxious, anxious was the word. Yes. It was all just stress. It would be fine soon. But still, he needed to get a letter to Silus as soon as possible. Once he was sure that Lydia had departed from the front of the house, he would go in search of a scruffy young boy in need of a pound. Street urchins, he had found, were the most efficient postage system in the city. They had yet to fail him.
It seems that Lydia may be on to us. Stand by, in case we need to proceed with what we discussed before. I hope your people are as talented and efficient as you say.